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I’d heard the Century College Jazz Ensemble before but under its former name, Lakewood Community College, and was quite impressed. This first recording under the new Century College banner is no less so, with director Larry Neumann’s students giving an excellent account of themselves on four songs from the pop / film canon, originals by Gerry Mulligan, Steve Allen, Dean Sorenson, Chuck Owen, Don Grolnick, James Marentic and Phil Wilson, and the dramatic West Side Story suite first recorded by drummer Buddy Rich’s awesome big band in October 1966. The choice of material is exemplary (any album that opens with Mulligan’s ultra–cool “Swing House” has me in its corner from the outset). After three succulent appetizers (“Swing House,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Here’s That Rainy Day”), the ensemble serves up its meaty main course, starting with Tom Kubis’ swinging arrangement of Allen’s “Zamba,” and continuing with trombonist Sorenson’s C minor blues, “Rain Delay,” Owen’s homage to Golson, “Along Came Benny,” Grolnick’s fast–paced “Nothing Personal” (featuring Miles Mortensen’s expressive baritone sax) and Bill Holman’s Kenton–style arrangement of “Lover Man” (ditto trumpeter Scott Snyder). For those whose appetite for swinging Jazz isn’t yet appeased, the CCJE offers saxophonist Marentic’s hard–charging “Nimbus” (chart by Gordon Brisker) and Paul McKee’s perceptive treatment of Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love.” And for dessert, the ensemble presents a dyad of delectable pastries from the Buddy Rich bakehouse, Wilson’s “Basically Blues” and the aforementioned West Side Story suite (arranged by Bill Reddie) with drummer P. Brett Smith sitting in admirably for Buddy. Smith is unwavering throughout, as are section–mates Tim Lackas (piano), Paul Berger (guitar) and Greg Stinson (bass). As for soloists, the ensemble has a number of pretty good ones including Lackas (dig his elegant unaccompanied intro to “Alice in Wonderland”); Mortensen (also outstanding on “Nimbus”); Berger; trumpeters Snyder, Craig Jacquart (who nails the high notes on "Here's That Rainy Day"), Kurt Christensen and John Whitlock; trombonists Steve Strickland, Craig Lawless (bass) and Ralph Brindle; and tenors Paul Peterson (showcased on "Beautiful Love") and Mark Jordheim. Director Neumann also solos, on alto ("Swing House," "Zamba") and soprano saxophones ("Alice in Wonderland"). The album is exceedingly well-recorded and has a generous 69:53 playing time. At the college level, it doesn't get much better than this.
Contact:Century College, 3300 Century Avenue North, White Bear Lake, MN 55110 (phone 612–779–3200).
Track Listing: Swing House; Alice in Wonderland; Here
Personnel: Larry Neumann, director, alto, soprano sax, flute; Skip Lawson, alto, soprano sax; Paul Peterson, Mark Jordheim, tenor sax, flute; Miles Mortensen, baritone sax, flute; Kurt Christensen, Scott Snyder, Craig Jacquart, John Whitlock, Pete Evans, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ralph Brindle, Phil Florine, Steve Strickland, trombone; Craig Lawless, bass trombone; Tim Lackas, piano; Paul Berger, guitar; Greg Stinson, bass; P. Brett Smith, drums.